College admissions scandal

NICK EICHER, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: the college admissions scandal.

This month, federal prosecutors filed charges against 50 people. They’re accused of participating in the biggest known college bribery scandal in recent history. Prosecutors allege wealthy parents paid test fixers hundreds of thousands of dollars. They’re accused of bribing coaches to sneak their children into elite schools.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Within days, a group of students who did not gain admission to those schools sued. The students named in the class-action suits have competitive GPAs and test scores, but they didn’t get in. They seek billions of dollars on behalf of more than a million students like themselves. They claim they were turned down while the cheaters sailed through the admissions process.

WORLD Digital reporter Laura Edghill wrote about the scandal and the lawsuits. She joins us now to talk about it. Good morning, Laura.

LAURA EDGHILL, REPORTER: Good morning, Mary!

REICHARD: Start by telling us more about what these students are alleging.

EDGHILL: There are two separate lawsuits that have been filed so far. One was filed by two students – Tyler Bendis and Nicholas Johnson. These two young men say they had the grades, SAT scores, and athletic experience that elite colleges are looking for. But Stanford, UCLA, and the University of San Diego turned down Bendis, and Johnson was rejected by Stanford, Yale, and the University of Texas at Austin.

REICHARD: I take it those are some of the schools named in the lawsuit?

EDGHILL: Exactly. All five of those schools plus Georgetown, the University of Southern California, and Wake Forest are all named in the suit.

REICHARD: So what are Bendis and Johnson hoping to accomplish here?

EDGHILL: They’re hoping the courts will certify the case as a class-action lawsuit on behalf of thousands of students who applied between 2012 and 2018, paid an application fee, and were rejected. The lawsuit states that had the plaintiffs known the system was rigged by fraud, they would not have spent money to apply to the schools. They want their money back!

REICHARD: You said there were two lawsuits filed. Can you tell us about the other one?

EDGHILL: The other one was filed by former Oakland Unified School District teacher Jennifer Toy and her son Joshua, who they claim was squeezed out of a spot at several schools by the alleged cheaters. This one is a little different in that it names individuals, not universities as defendants.

REICHARD: Okay, so I think I probably can guess this, but who are the Toys suing?

EDGHILL: It names more than 50 individuals, including the ones you’ve heard all over the news coverage, like the Hollywood actresses, and the scam’s mastermind, Rick Singer. The lawsuit also names numerous other parents, coaches, and test administrators, and even includes language stating that the plaintiffs will add others as they are discovered.

Like Bendis and Johnson’s lawsuit, the Toys’ includes claims of conspiracy and fraud, but this one also claims infliction of emotional distress, something I think they will have a hard time quantifying in court.

REICHARD: Indeed. So what’s the projected outcome for either of these?

EDGHILL: Legal experts all seem to agree that both lawsuits are unlikely to succeed. At the most, students might receive a refund of their application fees, most of which were $50-$100. But even that is probably a long shot.

REICHARD: I agree. Now what about the criminal case here? Can you update us on where that stands?

EDGHILL: Just this Monday, most of the coaches charged in the scheme pleaded “not guilty” in federal court in Boston. The potential penalties they face are severe—as much as 20 years of prison time, although the actual sentences would likely be much lighter than that. Two coaches are taking a different stance. Stanford’s former sailing coach has already pleaded guilty, and Yale University’s women’s soccer coach is expected to plead guilty this week as well.

Huffman, Loughlin and Loughlin’s fashion designer husband Mossimo Giannulli will make their initial appearances in the Boston court next Wednesday. Here, there’s a consensus. That is, as long any parents who are involved cooperate in the investigation, they will avoid prison time. Instead they’ll end up with probation and a fine.

Rick Singer has already admitted to fraud and conspiracy charges. He’s cooperating with federal investigators hoping to get a reduced sentence. Apparently Singer had already been assisting the feds as they worked to bust up the cheating ring. He secretly recorded conversations with parents that investigators used to bring the scheme to light.

And Mary, I’ll add that eight of the universities involved are now being investigated by the U.S. Department of Education. They’re looking to see if the school violated financial aid laws.

REICHARD: Laura Edghill is a reporter for WORLD Digital. She writes a weekly roundup called Schooled with stories like this one. Laura, thanks so much!

EDGHILL: You’re welcome, Mary.

(AP Photo/Reed Saxon,File) This Tuesday, March 12, 2019 file photo shows the University Village area of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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